Park County commissioner candidates talk economy and housing

Candidates for Park County Commissioner in the upcoming election attended a public forum to share their experiences and opinions on how to handle the challenges facing the county.

The Cody Club hosted an open forum for Park County Commissioner candidates on Monday, June 20 at the Holiday Inn in Cody. Each candidate was asked to make a three-minute introduction followed by a question and answer period.

Six candidates “attended” the forum: Dossie Overfield, Llyod Thiel, Ken Montgomery, Matthew Scott and Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. All of the candidates attended the forum lunch in person, except for Angie Johnson, who submitted her information remotely.

Meeteetse Town Clerk Treasurer Angie Johnson sent in her biography, which was read by Country County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tina Hoebelheinrich. Johnson highlighted her extensive civic experience in Meeteetse – she has been employed by the town of Meeteetse in numerous capacities since 2000.

Dossie Overfield, county commissioner since 2018, said planning and zoning has been his biggest priority since taking office. After the current Park County Land Use Plan is completed, she hopes to continue revising outdated rules and regulations to modernize county processes.

Lloyd Thiel, also elected in 2018, said he is working to make Park County a great place for his three grandchildren to grow up. Public works are Thiel’s forte. He works to make sure he saves county money in these areas where and how he can.

Both Overfield and Thiel have expressed their desire to see the Park County land use plan through to completion in 2023.

Matthew Scott spoke about the long legacy of both sides of his family as educators in Park County, where he was born and raised. He holds degrees in business and finance and owns Scott Construction in Cody.

Ken Montgomery is a new resident of Park County, but he was “born Wyomingite” and has “convincing converts.” His concern is that businesses in the county cannot reach their full potential due to hiring issues, and the county needs to do more to attract families and “young people” to live here. Where these young people and families will live was a concern over lunch.

Sheriff Steward explained how 31 years in the Park County Sheriff‘s Office gave him an understanding of how every other agency in the county works. He also mentioned that the sheriff’s office employs one-third of all Park County employees.

There was only time for two questions, but they covered the most critical issues facing Park County: economic development, housing, and jobs.

Wyoming House Representative Sandy Newsome posed the first question: “What is the county’s role in economic development?” »

Thiel’s answer was simple – “the government stays away”. The government should not get in the way with regulations, nor help with irresponsible subsidies.

Scott said it was a balancing act. The county must encourage and support business owners, but do so responsibly.

Montgomery echoed Thiel’s sentiments about staying away, but stressed the importance of laying the groundwork, saying “either private property rights matter or they don’t.”

Overfield discussed the letters of support commissioners regularly receive for various projects. For her, logistics – especially the use of water and resources – determine her response as commissioner.

Steward had a more practical idea. He thinks taxpayers’ money can be well spent sending commissioners to national conferences to attract new businesses to Park County to increase county revenue.

The next question came from House Executive Director Hoebelheinrich regarding affordable housing as a solution to many challenges in Park County.

Steward said the issue was vitally important, citing his struggle to hire staff due to the rising price of housing in Cody and Powell. He added that “enforcement will be a struggle in five years” for this reason people cannot afford the prices in the area – especially house prices.

Overfield said municipalities in the county don’t have a lot of infrastructure to work with, which makes it difficult to hire staff. She also mentioned how AirBnBs (mostly owned by people out of state) are taking potential affordable housing off the market. In one case, seven out of ten houses in a block are AirBnBs and are only occupied during different times of the year.

This is the paradox of Park County’s current situation. City officials and leaders want to attract young talent and new families to the area, but no one knows how to find them housing or adequate compensation.

Montgomery said the issue is as much about wages as housing. He cited his view that the City of Cody’s recent decision to approve raises for senior officials is part of the issue impacting the county’s economic disparities. These increases for elected officials did not include salary increases for lower-level or entry-level employees.

From Scott’s perspective, this is a “bottleneck”: an ever-higher demand for employees, but an ever-lower supply of people for those jobs. He suggests encouraging Northwest College to open a trade school to create a local pool of skilled trades workers.

Northwest College already offers programs in aeronautics, agricultureand welding – to name a few.

Thiel stressed that this is not just a local problem. Economic conditions affecting Park County are similar to Billings, Jackson, and Bozeman (and nationwide). Again, he said the answer should come from the private sector and the county should make it easier for private companies to come up with their own solutions.

*This story was written by Andrew Rossi with contributions from Caleb Nelson

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